ARLINGTON, Texas – As Roy Williams ran toward the end zone, he realized the importance of his breakaway catch-and-run. Just hold onto it, he thought, and the Dallas Cowboys would pull off one of their greatest Thanksgiving comebacks. He even switched the ball from one hand to another to make sure he kept it from the defender in front of him.
The guy behind him, however, changed everything.
Malcolm Jenkins snatched the ball from Williams at the 11, ripping it out so forcefully that it wound up against his own stomach. Drew Brees then quickly drove 89 yards for the touchdown that put New Orleans back ahead with 1:55 left.
But the drama wasn’t done yet in the Saints’ 30-27 victory on Thursday.
Having already overcome a pair of 17-point deficits, the Cowboys moved close enough for David Buehler to try a 59-yard field goal that would’ve tied it. His kick had plenty of leg, but fluttered just wide to the left with 25 seconds left.
“The play that Malcolm Jenkins makes late is an effort play, a heart play and it’s one of those plays that really inspires everyone on the team,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “It was a gut-check win.”
And a gut-wrenching loss for Dallas.
The Cowboys came in 2-0 under interim coach Jason Garrett, playing like the Super Bowl contenders they were supposed to be instead of the 1-7 cupcakes they turned into under coach Wade Phillips. They made plenty of Phillips-era mistakes to fall behind 17-0 in the first quarter and 20-3 before halftime, then showed the poise and toughness Garrett has instilled by fighting back.
Buehler kicked a 53-yard field goal as the first half ended, Miles Austin went 60 yards on an end around on the second play of the second half and Dallas was back in the game.
The Cowboys went ahead 27-23 on Tashard Choice’s 1-yard touchdown run with 5:51 left, then Williams caught a short pass and took it 47 yards approaching the end zone.
Williams switched the ball from one hand to another to avoid cornerback Tracy Porter, knowing the Cowboys could stretch the lead, kill some clock or both as long as he didn’t fumble. Then, Jenkins grabbed it.
“I lost the ball game,” Williams said. “I let my teammates down. I need to fall down. We run the clock down and win the game. I was trying to make a play and they did a good job. It’s late in the game. That’s the nail in the coffin. We had the momentum going our way. We were there. That was a W. I get tackled, we get in the end zone and we win. I fall down and we win.”
Jenkins said he chased the play with only one thought – “get the ball out.”
“He didn’t see me from the blind side,” Jenkins said. “A bad play turned good for us. Not only ripped it out, it just kind of fell in my stomach.”